The COVID-19 pandemic has paralyzed the sports world. The world’s top sports leagues have all been halted for the sake of public health and safety.
Locally, Stony Brook University’s athletics teams have also felt the repercussions of COVID-19. We interviewed a few of the student athletes who felt the aftershock of this pandemic and recollected how everything changed starting Monday, March 9.
These interviews have been lightly condensed for clarity.
MONDAY, MARCH 9
Rumors about how Stony Brook will be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic start surfacing around noon on Monday, March 9. Emails about classes being moved online and a vast array of activities being canceled are shared around social media with no official confirmation from the school’s administration. The student body is kept in the dark.
McKenzie Bushee (women’s basketball, junior): Sunday was our semifinal game against Binghamton. A lot of our families [made] it to this game and, honestly, the win felt amazing. It was a great team win. We knew our next game would be Friday at 5:00 p.m., at home, against Maine. I’ve honestly never in my life been a part of a championship team. I’ve always lost in semis or quarterfinals, so this game meant a lot to me personally. I was going to be able to play a championship game, at home, with a team that means more to me than anything else in this world.
Elijah Olaniyi (men’s basketball, junior): Monday was pretty much a regular day. We had practice. I didn’t practice because I was coming back from my ankle injury. [There was] speculation of everything being canceled. The [athletic director Shawn Heilbron] told us that we were still gonna play on Tuesday, so business as usual.
Chris Hamilton (baseball, senior): We saw the emails, but it was just towards the end of the week when things really started heating up.
At 9:20 p.m., Stony Brook Athletics announces it will implement an attendance management initiative for the men’s basketball game against Hartford on Tuesday, and the women’s basketball game vs. Maine on Friday. The 28-3 women’s basketball team is one game away from its first-ever NCAA Tournament.
Olaniyi: They told us they can’t publicize our game and can’t promote it. I’m like, “What do you mean?” [They said] the university’s not letting us promote the game because of [COVID-19].
Bushee: We did know about the fans, and that shook us a little bit at first, but it didn’t affect us a ton. It was the game we wanted. We just wanted to play [on Friday].
TUESDAY, MARCH 10
There are no announcements concerning spring sports such as baseball, softball, lacrosse and track & field. The men’s basketball game against Hartford goes ahead as planned per the Monday announcement. Attendance is limited and no tickets are sold at the door. The team loses a crucial game 64-58.
Hamilton: We had games Tuesday and Wednesday. We played a game against Iona [on Tuesday]. We didn’t shake hands after the game. Had a game Wednesday against Merrimack. That was fine. And then we got the emails about the basketball game [being] limited attendance, the NBA [got suspended]. We were at our house talking like, “Damn. What’s gonna happen?”
Bushee: We practice[d] Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday preparing for this game, treating it like every game, which is how we went into all of our games. Same mentality: one game at a time. We were excited.
Olaniyi: The games get loud, especially when it’s packed. That was sort of like playoff basketball what we were expecting. The people that came still showed love and it was really loud but it’s just not what we expected. It was half-empty, about 2000 people.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 11
Stony Brook Athletics announces the cancelation of four road events: softball at the Seattle University tournament, men’s lacrosse at Princeton, women’s lacrosse at USC and women’s tennis at Brown, Northern Iowa and Drake.
Ally Kennedy (women’s lacrosse, senior): I found out that we decided we weren’t going to travel to California and felt it [was] the smart thing to not go to an airport. It was the best decision for a whole team of girls, and smartest [decision] to keep parents happy and not risk anything. The biggest thing was making sure everyone was safe.
It was kind of sad we weren’t going to travel to California and play USC — since it’s a game we needed, and definitely [could] help out our RPI [rating percentage index, a way to rank teams based on how strong their schedule is] ranking since they’re also a top ten team. But it was the right decision not only from our coaching staff, but also from our athletic director and the higher-ups in that department.
We went about our week with practice and everything until Wednesday — when the Ivy League announced its whole season was canceled. That was a pretty big bomb they dropped. The whole lacrosse world was pretty shook about it because in the Ivy League, you can’t get a fifth year of eligibility back. You have to finish in four, so it mean[t] the seniors [were] done. We just played Princeton, so as a team, we’re talking like, “Wow, they just played their last game, which is against us.”
THURSDAY, MARCH 12
The America East Conference announces that, due to the recent developments regarding the COVID-19 virus, it will be canceling its basketball championship games.
Bushee: We were in a shooting drill when my coach and our athletic director called us into a huddle. The news shattered my heart. We weren’t going to be able to play in the championship game for the safety of us, the fans, the other team, everything. That moment will probably stick with me forever. It felt like a death, like someone close to me just passed away.
Olaniyi: We lost, but our season wasn’t over because we were gonna play in the postseason tournament. Of course, everybody took the [Tuesday] loss hard. It’s just surreal in the moment because right after we lost, it was like everything is canceled. I’m actually home right now. I don’t know when I have to go back to school. Just craziness right now.
Later that day, the NCAA announces it will not hold its men’s or women’s basketball tournaments. All practices and competitions are also canceled until the end of the school year. This affects sports like lacrosse, softball, baseball and track & field.
Bushee: We got the news the same day that the NCAA March Madness would also be cancelled, so really basketball was then just over. It wasn’t about the ring or the glamor. It was about my teammates and our family [and] that we wouldn’t be able to do what we’ve worked so hard for with each other. It was a feeling in my stomach that I will never be able to forget.
Olaniyi: It’s been rumors going on, like, two weeks now. Rumors that we weren’t even going to play in the playoffs, they were gonna get canceled before we even started. And then the [athletic director] came and said, “I know you guys saw the stuff on social media.” And he just took it from there. He pretty much told everybody the season was over. I honestly feel bad for the spring sports because those guys didn’t even get to start their season.
Kennedy: There was a meeting that was held to tell everyone in athletics — student athletes and faculty — that our season was going to be suspended. The spring season is going to be suspended from a decision made [by] America East until April 3. We could still practice but all competition and games were suspended until April 3.
Hamilton: We had a meeting. The [athletic director] spoke to a lot of the student athletes and the staff and really just talked about how we were going to be actually suspended until about April 3, April 4. And then after that, unfortunately, the NCAA came out with [that] they’re canceling all spring and competitions from the winter.
Olaniyi: I’ve talked to a lot of the softball players and baseball players that go to Stony Brook. The only way you can explain it is surreal. The seniors are ready to graduate, ready to finish this senior year strong. It’s not that you don’t want to come back and play the sport you love, but it’s just taking another year from [their lives]. Some of these guys don’t expect to go on and play for pro. They wanted to graduate, finish the year.
Kennedy: We were all in the basketball arena and our athletic director Shawn Heilbron was talking to us about what that [looked] like for us and everything. As we were there, the NCAA announced that the winter championship and the spring championship was canceled through a tweet, which [was] really heartbreaking. You saw everyone’s face in that room kind of changing. The whole mood kind of changed going from knowing that there still was a light at the end of the tunnel, that we were still going to play eventually, to my senior season is now cancelled, and the rug is being ripped out from under me.
Hamilton: We were trying to comprehend what that really meant for our season. And then once we got the final word from our coach, that it was no longer going to happen this season, it really was a bummer. And it was upsetting knowing we’re not going to be able to wear our uniform the rest of the year.
Kennedy: The NCAA didn’t reach out to any kind of higher-up. No athletic directors were in the know. It was kind of just thrown out there on Twitter.
Bushee: I have never in my life felt more connected and more love from our athletic department than what I felt that day and these past few days. It shows that sports is really a family, and when one member is down, it takes the whole crowd to bring them back up.
FRIDAY, MARCH 13
The NCAA announces it will provide “eligibility relief” for Division I spring athletes following the abrupt end to their seasons. The exact details are still unknown, but it is reported that it will consist of an extra year of eligibility for spring athletes.
Hamilton: It really hit home when I really thought about that this could possibly be the last time I ever wear a Stony Brook uniform. Then [the NCAA] came out with [seniors] getting another year of eligibility and some things are up in the air. A lot of unanswered questions still. What’s going to happen?
Kennedy: Even when I wasn’t sure if we were getting the year of eligibility back, I knew I wanted to end my lacrosse career the way I want[ed] to and not have to be done in someone else’s time or decision. Lacrosse is a sport I’ve been playing since I was five years old and throwing on [a] Stony Brook uniform is something that I love to do, and I love to play for the school.
Hamilton: Returning to Stony Brook is an option now that we get the extended eligibility, but I’m gonna prepare for the [Major League Baseball] draft in June. I’m gonna go down to Florida and start working every day for the next few months, try and put myself in a position to hear my name called in June. I’m grateful that it’s an option to come back to Stony Brook… there’s no other baseball program I’d like to play for.
Olaniyi: The biggest question is what happens next. We’re in contact with our coaches. They told us to go home, don’t go home. Pretty much, they don’t know what’s going on either. We have a meeting March 30th, so we all gotta be back on campus March 30th. We’re expecting to have more information then and then we go from there.
Bushee: Right now, we wait. Wait to hear from athletics and our coaches. It’s just a waiting game now.
Kennedy: A lot of girls — my seniors on my team — haven’t made a decision yet because of their lives. Life is gonna keep moving on regardless of the decision of the NCAA, whether we wanted it to happen or not. It’s going to be tough for them to decide whether they want to come back the extra year or just move on, hang up the cleats and kind of move on with their life and be okay with closing this chapter of their lives. It’s a hard decision and I wish we didn’t have to make it. I wish me and every spring student athlete wasn’t faced with this choice, so it’s just really hard. It’s still a tough pill to swallow.